I have something of a love-hate relationship with the concept of expanded universes in fiction. While it is perfectly within the rights of the original creators to do with their intellectual property as they please, more often than not the results fall considerably short of whatever made the originals so enduringly popular. For every piece of well-crafted media that helps to immerse the reader, gamer or viewer in a more richly-defined world, there is a misconceived sequel, creaky novelisation or piece of – ugh – fan fiction.
The original Force Unleashed was a dazzling piece of technical posturing wrapped lovingly in the sprawling setting of Lucasarts‘ Star Wars universe. For anyone unfamiliar with their output over the course of modern gaming history, it suffices to say that Lucasarts’ electronic entertainment track record is a somewhat mixed bag. The game became Lucasarts’ fastest-selling game to date. While its critics were subdued in their praise, The Force Unleashed was still well-received for its story, beautiful visuals and ambitious action sequences.
The recent sequel was released some two years later, picking up largely where one of the previous game’s alternative endings left off. This novel by NY Times best-seller Sean Williams focuses on both the protagonist of the two games and his love interest, alternating between the pair as they individually struggle against the tyranny of the Galactic Empire.
The book does well to accommodate both those who are intimately familiar with the volumes of Star Wars back story (this particular tale being set after Revenge of the Sith, almost immediately before the events of A New Hope) and those who have a little or no knowledge of the whole affair. A host of familiar faces make an appearance, from Princess Leia to Darth Vader, Boba Fett and even Yoda. There are sly nods to the continuity throughout, although these border on the ridiculous at times. At one point a certain future admiral realises that he’s walked into a trap, and at that point his dialogue practically writes itself.
When it comes to novelisations, you can’t really fault the author for working with what they are given, and if Lucasarts wanted to shoehorn so much Star Wars lore into their game, that Williams has produced a half decent novel at the end of it is a credit to his talents. After all, it wasn’t him that named the main character Starkiller, or the female lead Juno Eclipse, was it?
If anything is to be faulted, it’s the ridiculously over-the-top nature of our hero who, as the son two Jedi, is one of the most transparently overpowered Marty Stus I have ever come across. Being the protagonist of a computer game where you get to beat up Darth Vader, we never once get the impression that the character of Starkiller is in any real danger. He smashes his way through legions of stormtroopers, obliterates giant monsters and rides doomed starships as though they were cosmic surfboards. So leave it to his girlfriend, naturally, to get herself into all kinds of scrapes, necessitating Starkiller charging headlong into progressively more ludicrous peril in order to get her back.
The man has all the emotional depth and affectation of Edward Cullen, and his obsessive desire to do whatever it takes “for Juno” begins to grate very early in the novel, and only gets worse from there. Fittingly, his faithful droid puts on a respectable Marvin the Paranoid Android impression as part of a sub-plot that never really seems to go anywhere.
If you’re planning on buying the game, this novel might be a nice companion (although I suspect it contains at least a couple of spoilers). Similarly, if you’re someone who likes to absorb every available piece of Star Wars lore, you will no doubt love this. As a piece of stand-alone fiction, however, it’s nothing special. Williams is clearly a competent writer and has respectably fleshed out the uninspiring source material, but realistically there are far better sci-fi stories for you to read, and if you’re going to experience The Force Unleashed 2, it’s probably more fun to play it than read it.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: Book Release Date: 26/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a hardback edition of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 Novelisation for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days. In addition, Midlife Gamer ran a competition for three copies of the same book two weeks prior to this review. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.